Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret

Lady Audley’s Secret is a Victorian sensation novel by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. It is about Lady Audley, a beautiful lady residing with her wealthy husband at Audley Court. In addition to her material wealth, Lady Audley also has a wealth of secrets. She challenges the notion of stereotypical femininity, and her brother-in-law, Robert Audley, gradually begins to suspect all is not right at Audley Court.

Reader, I liked it.

As a late Victorian novel, the language is not too dissimilar to modern language and so was fairly easy to read.

There were plenty of plot twists that prompted me to work out various marriage connections and secret identities. However, some of the bigger secrets became apparent rather early on – perhaps this was intentional – but it made me dually satisfied to see Robert Audley discover clues and exasperated he didn’t realise sooner what was obviously going on.

Lady Audley’s Secret foregrounds the Victorian pragmatism of marriage. Throughout the novel, male characters encouraged women to choose a marriage partner they deeply loved – as if it were that simple. Given the Victorian restrictions on a woman’s independence and finance, they relied on good husband for security, which is exactly what Lady Audley did.

However, though I really liked Lady Audley’s cunning and atrocious schemes, by marrying well, she becomes protected by her position and the manipulative hold she has over her older, richer (and oblivious) husband.

This reflects how the upper-classes could avoid punishment – or even any ‘disgrace’ – if they had sufficient status and wealth, whereas the lower-classes would be imprisoned immediately. In turn, this suggests money and status make you above or outside the law, – something still wholly relevant today.

Spoiler Warning: I try to keep my reviews mostly spoiler-free. From here on in, this is an exception. Sorry.

Despite my enjoyment of the villainous actions and maliciousness of Lady Audley, she is  eventually robbed of her agency.

 ‘George Talboys had been cruelly and treacherously murdered’

As it happens, Lady Audley hadn’t actually murdered George Talboys, contradicting her characterisation as a scheming, dangerous woman. Plus, the involvement of lower class characters within this plotting then reinforces the stereotype that the lower-classes are the true criminals after all.*

* I made a similar point discussing this with Sherlock Holmes last year.

To me, the ending was also wrong. Most characters received a conventional “happy ending”. Fair enough, though it seems contrite within the context of all the shocking sensationalism prior. Lady Audley however, dies naturally in a ‘madhouse’ in Belgium. There’s no trial, no exposure, and no punishment – except arguably the loss of her position. Everything is kept secret or attributed to Lady Audley’s supposed ‘madness’.

I don’t believe Lady Audley was in any way mad; I think she was a rational, cold-hearted woman who used despicable crimes to better her status. Yet of course, these facts are ignored because of that key word: woman.

‘To call them the weaker sex is to utter a hideous mockery. They are the stronger sex, the noisier, the more persevering, the most self-assertive sex.’

Given the rigidity of Victorian stereotypes, no one thought a woman could be capable of anything more dangerous than cross-stitching.  This is partly what takes Robert Audley so long in his investigation; he can’t (or doesn’t want to) face the prospect that is sister-in-law could be capable of such deeds. But then again, given she doesn’t actually murder George Talboys, perhaps Lady Audley isn’t capable after all, and thus the Victorian stereotypes are reinforced.

Some others may die at her hands. But enough spoilers.

If I haven’t completely ruined the book for you, then you should read Lady Audley’s Secret.

– Judith


Themes in: Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sherlock Holmes stories are such a famous franchise now, originally written by Arthur Conan Doyle as short stories and novels.  The stories belong to detective genre, and most of the plots rest on on restoring order to society after the disorder a certain crime has caused.

The only theme I want to talk about in the Sherlock Holmes stories is class, in relation to The Man With The Twisted Lip and The Speckled Band. There are striking differences between how the working-class and middle-class are portrayed in the two texts.

For example, Grimesby Roylott in The Speckled Band is a vastly wealthy and powerful figure. He is also the antagonist and a criminal, guilty of murder and attempted murder.  However, he is compared to a fearsome ‘bird of prey’ which, whilst a mildly threatening image, also connotes majesty, cleverness and skill. It is much more appealing to be compared to an eagle than a pigeon, for instance. Roylott is also described with elaborate imagery such as the metaphor ‘A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles’. The lengths Watson goes to describe Roylott in these ways suggests an awe, or bias towards a villain, because of his middle-class status.

In contrast, Hugh Boone – a beggar and ruffian in The Man With The Twisted Lip – is described with negative language such as ‘piteous spectacle’ and ‘pale face disfigured by a horrible scar’. This description implies that those of the lower class not only look different to the middle-class, but they look worse*, as we are spared of Watson’s poetic language – language which, it would seem, is reserved for those belonging to the middle-class, like Roylott. This discriminatory language, and the perceived correlation between appearance and class has not left society; how many jokes have been made about the appearance of guests on The Jeremy Kyle Show, a programme largely designed to “represent” those who are not middle or upper class?

* The language used to describe Boone’s appearance is even more troubling once we learn that Boone is merely a disguise performed by the middle-class man, Neville St. Clair, who created his appearance to purposefully “look lower class”.

This view of middle-class criminality leads me to talk about Professor James Moriarty, Sherlock’s rival.

Despite Moriarty’s involvements in countless crimes and schemes, I don’t think the reader is ever expected to see him in the same way as other criminals. He is cunning, ruthless, and his crimes provide Holmes with intellectual “stimulation”. The fact that Moriarty is a well-educated professor with a substantial income, who also happens to belong to the same class as Holmes and Watson is, I’m sure, merely coincidental with the narrative’s positive bias towards him.

In short, the Sherlock Holmes stories portray middle class criminals as attractive and exciting, whereas any criminal perceived to be from a lower class is portrayed as the scum they rightly are.


– Judith

Opinion Piece: Trainspotting Discussion With The Blog from Another World

With the release of Trainspotting 2, the long-awaited sequel to Danny Boyle’s 1996 black-comedy film, I sat down with Patrick, from The Blog from Another World to discuss Trainspotting.

I read Trainspotting, the book on which the film is based, by Irvine Welsh last year and wrote a review of it here. Overall, the gritty Scottish social realism failed to captivate me, but I appreciated Welsh’s inclusion of Scottish slang and dialect. When I watched the film however, I felt much more engaged.

I asked Patrick if enjoyed watching Trainspotting. He said: “I think that ‘enjoy’ is a difficult term to use to describe this film. I think it’s is a British classic and a milestone for British cinema.”

He continued, “Many films have tried to emulate the anarchic and twisted style of this film (such as Jon S. Baird’s Filth in 2013 – based on another novel by Irvine Welsh) but nobody has ever really come close. I love Danny Boyle’s direction and he makes the film palatable for the audience.”

However, what I found unpalatable in Trainspotting was how every social situation was punctuated by, hard drug use aside, cigarettes and alcohol. Whilst Trainspotting is by no means the only film to feature heavy drinking and smoking, it’s something in film that irritates me every time; excessive consumption makes me feel physically sick. I also found it ironic that the characters who frequently binged on these “socially acceptable” drugs were the same characters berating Renton and his friends for their heroin addictions.

Yet the constant smoking and drinking was certainly not the most shocking part of Trainspotting. To say the film includes crude scenes is an understatement.

 “It is a tough film to watch in places, so I understand why people can’t enjoy it for that reason.” Patrick said. However, he argued that these disgusting scenes are purposeful, and contrasted with moments of beauty and perfection.

“For example, when Renton dives down the worst toilet in Scotland, he lands in clear, serene water –  brilliant juxtaposition; I really admire the sheer invention of it.”

Speaking of whom, Ewan McGregor’s Renton was my favourite character in Trainspotting: the protagonist and heroin addict, who provides a voice of relative reason and is capable of blending into “normal” society.

Renton is the central narrator of the film, which made the plot easier to follow and helped me put names to faces. It was also a nice change from the book, which frequently changed between different narrative perspectives, making for tough reading. The fact Renton’s narration helped me understand the plot better made me appreciate the voice-overs – a technique I normally dislike within film –  and I thought they matched the style of Trainspotting well.

Patrick’s favourite character was Francis Begbie, a psychopath with violent tendencies, played by Robert Carlyle.

“Carlyle gives such a ferocious and frightening portrayal of a psychopath” he said.

“I can’t help but feel that Heath Ledger’s Joker and Andrew Scott’s Moriarty share DNA with Begbie’s pint-glass-throwing-chaos. True, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy are iconic characters, but Begbie is the character who sticks in my mind.

When Begbie starts a fight at the pub, it’s horrible. His callous violent bloodlust is frightening and his whim to have a fight is portrayed excellently.”

Patrick described to me another memorable Trainspotting scene, where Renton is forced by his parents to give up his heroin use, going through withdrawal symptoms, including vivid hallucinations. “It’s a horrific and surreal scene.” Patrick said, and I have to agree. McGregor’s acting here was fantastic; his screams really emphasised the suffering he was going through, and it was conflicting to watch.

Personally, I found the scene where Allison’s baby dies unsurprising but incredibly emotional. Allison, played by Susan Vidler, had an incredibly blasé attitude to drugs and promiscuous sex, resulting in a neglected baby surrounded by drugs and filth. When baby Dawn, inevitably died from poor health and neglect, it was such a raw and emotional scene – I could really sense Allison’s pain. However, what disturbed and angered me was that although Allison was in such pain, she still turned back to drugs – highlighting the vicious and destructive cycle of drug addiction.

It is scenes such as these that give Trainspotting a much darker tone, to juxtapose with its comedic elements.

Patrick said, “I think Trainspotting’s tone is very complex. It’s a film which is hyperactive but sombre, crass but frightening. The tone works because it’s about the ‘highs and lows’ of drug addiction; the tone wildly fluctuates to expertly capture and reflect what life is like for a heroin addict.”

“Many drugs films such as Requiem For A Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000) show only the horrific parts of drug addiction. Trainspotting is the best portrayal of addiction since The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945). It gives a balanced but unflinching view of addiction – it’s as euphoric as it is disgusting. It is better to understand what drugs give you, before you see what they take away.”

Trainspotting 2 was released today in the UK, and will be released in March in the USA.


Thank you for reading!

– Judith and Patrick